Back when sprites ruled the world, beat them ups were all the rage (no pun intended). From Double Dragon to Final Fight to Battletoads and even The Simpsons, the gaming landscape had numerous entries in the genre. Because it was fun to beat things up. It was fun to be a badass dishing out justice. But somewhere along the line, the gameplay stagnated and the genre grew out of favour. Gamers no longer wanted to beat things up, they wanted to shoot things and first person shooters have really taken over that mantle. The Dynasty Warriors series somewhat tried to revive the genre to a sizeable audience in Japan and a smaller niche crowd in the west, but aside from that, not many other series have achieved any notable success.
Enter Dragon’s Crown then, Vanillaware’s attempt to show the world how to do it right and how to make it a success both critically and commercially. At its heart, its a side scrolling beat them up in a fantasy setting, some might say a modern day Golden Axe. But its so far ahead of Golden Axe that maybe the moment to moment gameplay might be the only thing left that’s similar. Every other aspect of the gameplay mechanics and systems of Dragon’s Crown has been reworked to provide an incredibly deep gameplay experience with near limitless replayability. In short, Dragon’s Crown is the best game on the Playstation Vita by a long distance, and one of the best games of last generation.
The game is divided into 9 main stages, where the player is asked to retrieve 9 talismans. You get those if you defeat the boss at the end of each stage. The game is set up as a dungeon crawler with a town that you visit to rest, buy items, repair equipment, learn skills and so forth before you dive back into the dungeons again. About halfway through the game the player will be asked to chain a number of dungeons together without going back to the town. Doing so nets the player bonuses like +100% to the players score or +100% money etc. So not only is it more fun to continue the dungeon crawling, but it includes incentives to stay down there. Of course the player has to come back to the town at some stage, when his weapons require repairing and in this game weapons deteriorate pretty quick. Its funny, in many other games this would be the very definition of grinding but in this game the stages are quite short and the levelling is pretty pain free.
There are six characters to use, the Fighter, the Amazon, the Wizard, the Sorceress, the elf and the dwarf. They vary from being pretty similar (Fighter and Amazon) to being very different to use (the elf is nothing like the Fighter). Each have their own move sets and skill sets. A player can get by knowing a couple of moves in Normal mode, but in the higher difficulties its essential to know all the ins and outs.
Of course the first thing most people notice is how pretty the game looks, and the game is a true stunner. In typical Vanillaware fashion, every scene is bursting with colour in its bold way and the art reflects the bombastic style that no other developer in the industry can match. The animations are also top notch, the most impressive are the numerous spells in the game. When the game gets busy, the graphics are utterly jaw dropping, with snow storms and tornadoes and fire spells flying all around the screen. It doesn’t cease to amaze no matter how long you play the game.
The game is fantastic solo or co-op. Up to four players can fight together, or if solo you can decide to scale the number of AI depending on your liking. You can also choose to start with zero AI but have AI join in just like an imaginary online game.
The campaign lasts around about 12-15 hours on normal per character. So if you run through all 6 characters thats a good 90 hours. Then there’s hard mode, then infernal mode, where you play the game again at a higher difficulty. If you’ve completed all that Vanillaware has added in a later update the Labyrinth of Chaos, a 99 level tower that gets harder the higher you climb. If you manage to do all that you’ll probably need about 300-400 hours. (And who said games were expensive and poor value?)
So all in all Dragon’s Crown is a phenomenal game. An amazing handheld Vita game that plays identical to its sibling on the PS3. There’s a couple of minor gripes, it gets incredibly difficult to see whats going on when everything is going off on the screen, and the game may be a bit grindy for some. But while the Vita has plenty of good games, there aren’t that many truly outstanding games. Dragon’s Crown is one of them, so go get it.
Score: 8.5 medieval warriors out of 10